Archive for the ‘Chemistry World Highlights’ Category

Quantifying UK carbon reduction potential

With 2016 set to become the warmest year on record, global warming has never been more prominent in the news. Researchers have found that scientifically viable carbon capture and reduction technologies could reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by 8–32%.

This year the UK signed up to the Paris climate agreement, which aims to limit global temperature increases to below 2°C compared with pre-industrial temperatures. One way to start meeting this agreement is for the UK to aim for net zero CO2 emissions through the use of negative emissions technologies (NETs) – these include methods to capture CO2 either directly from the air of before it is released from fossil fuel emissions, planting trees and creating forests, accelerating natural geological weathering to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, changing agricultural practices and land use, and binding CO2 in the form of biochar.

Negative emission technologies

Carbon dioxide flows among atmospheric, land, ocean and geological reservoirs for different negative emission technologies. Source: © Royal Society of Chemistry

Pete Smith, from the University of Aberdeen, UK, and colleagues have assessed the impact that UK-based NETs could have on reducing the country’s CO2emission levels. Smith’s team discovered that if the UK implemented all possible NETs, regardless of their technical viability, it would reduce current emissions by 8–32%. However, the actual proportion of this potential that can be realised might be smaller than this; factors such as cost, energy requirements, environmental impact and public acceptance will all affect these technologies’ viability.

Read the full article in Chemistry World.


Pete Smith, R. Stuart Haszeldine and Stephen M. Smith
DOI: 10.1039/C6EM00386A
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Closing the window on air pollution

Graphical abstractSwitching off fans and closing car windows can minimise drivers’ exposure to harmful particles.

Sitting in traffic is bad for your lungs, but closing your car windows and switching off the fans can minimise the amount of micro-size pollution particles you breathe, scientists from the UK found.
Air pollution is a major health risk. The World Health Organization estimates that it caused 3.7 million premature deaths in 2012. Last year, a group led by Prashant Kumar from the University of Surrey, UK, showed that drivers stuck at traffic lights are exposed to 29 times more harmful pollution particles than those driving in free flowing traffic.

Switching off fans and closing car windows can minimise drivers’ exposure to harmful particles
Sitting in traffic is bad for your lungs, but closing your car windows and switching off the fans can minimise the amount of micro-size pollution particles you breathe, scientists from the UK found.
Air pollution is a major health risk. The World Health Organization estimates that it caused 3.7 million premature deaths in 2012. Last year, a group led by Prashant Kumar from the University of Surrey, UK, showed that drivers stuck at traffic lights are exposed to 29 times more harmful pollution particles than those driving in free flowing traffic.

Read the full article in Chemistry World.


Concentration dynamics of coarse and fine particulate matter at and around signalised traffic intersections
Prashant Kumar and Anju Goel
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2016, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/C6EM00215C, Paper

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Snow soaks up pollutants from engine exhausts

Scientists in Canada have shown that snow acts as a sink for nanosized particles and certain organic constituents from car exhausts.

Snow for the experiment was collected from a park in Montreal, where it snows for around 5 months of the year

Air pollution is recognised as a leading environmental driver of cancer deaths, which makes the fate of these toxic and carcinogenic aerosols from car exhausts important for informing changes in emissions and air quality regulations, and technologies, in countries with cold winters.

Anna Lea Rantalainen, an environmental chemist at the University of Helsinki, Finland, says the work raises further questions: ‘It seems that snow is efficient at removing aerosol particles from the air, but what happens after the snow has melted?’ If the sink is temporary, pollutant emissions could increase rapidly in industrialised areas when snow melts. ‘This is not just important for Canada, but other industrial regions like China that emit very diverse compounds, which are subject to transport around the globe,’ cautions Ariya.

Please visit Chemistry World to read the full article.

Role of snow and cold environment in the fate and effects of nanoparticles and select organic pollutants from gasoline engine exhaust*
Yevgen Nazarenko, Uday Kurien, Oleg Nepotchatykh, Rodrigo B. Rangel-Alvarado and   Parisa A. Ariya
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2016, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/C5EM00616C

*Access is free through a registered RSC account until 25 February 2016 – click here to register

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Hungry Ghost festival behind annual air quality decline in Singapore

Researchers in Singapore have linked late-summer spikes in air and rainwater pollution with incense and paper offerings being burnt during local celebrations of the Hungry Ghost festival.

During the month-long festival, when deceased relatives are believed to return to their families, colourful joss paper and ‘hell bank notes’ are burned as gifts for the visiting ancestors to take back to the underworld.

[...]

To read the full article, please visit Chemistry World.

Annual air pollution caused by the Hungry Ghost Festival
B. Khezri, Y. Y. Chan, L. Y. D. Tiong and R. D. Webster
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2015, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/C5EM00312A

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Salty soil set to hamper Bangladesh crop production

Salty soil set to hamper Bangladesh crop production

Scientists have quantified the effect of climate change on soil salinity and crop production in Bangladesh. Their models suggest the monsoon will be unable to fully leach dry season salt deposits and that salt accumulation will become a major issue for farmers in coastal regions with farm productivity dropping by as much as 50%.

The team discovered that irrigation with water that contained a salinity measure of 8ppt resulted in incomplete salt leaching and an average crop loss of 50%. This level of damage is likely to make farming unsustainable and since salinisation is difficult to counteract, the ESPA Delta project is now researching salt tolerant crops.

To read the full article, please visit ChemistryWorld.

Projections of on-farm salinity in coastal Bangladesh
D. Clarke, S. Williams, M. Jahiruddin, K. Parks and   M. Salehin
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2015, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/C4EM00682H

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Hungary’s rivers in recovery after red mud disaster

Four years after Hungary’s disastrous red mud spill, Will Mayes and co-workers at the University of Hull, UK, have shown that implemented remediation measures have successfully limited the long term impacts of the spill on the affected Danube tributaries. Elemental and particle size analyses of fluvial sediments sampled downstream from the spill site in 2013 showed that the characteristic geochemical signature of the red mud was predominantly absent compared to in post-disaster surveys, highlighting that the contaminated material was mostly removed by intervention measures.

To read the full article please visit ChemistryWorld.

Geochemical recovery of the Torna–Marcal river system after the Ajka red mud spill, Hungary*
Á. D. Anton, O. Klebercz, Á. Magyar, I. T. Burke, A. P. Jarvis, K. Gruiz and   W. M. Mayes
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2014,
DOI: 10.1039/C4EM00452C

*This paper is open access

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Higher levels of some metals in e-cigarette smoke

The source of the metals appears to be the e-cigarette cartridge rather than the e-liquid © Shutterstock

 A study comparing secondhand emissions from e-cigarettes and conventional tobacco ones reveals that although e-cigarettes release much lower levels of most harmful compounds, they actually discharge more nickel and silver than tobacco cigarettes. 

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that aerosolise nicotine-containing liquids, called e-liquids, for users to inhale. They have been widely marketed as safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes as they do not contain tobacco, and their use has rapidly risen over the last decade. However, little research exists on what effects e-cigarettes have on users or those in the vicinity. 

To read the full article, please visit Chemistry World

Particulate metals and organic compounds from electronic and tobacco-containing cigarettes: comparison of emission rates and secondhand exposure
Arian Saffari, Nancy Daher, Ario Ruprecht, Cinzia De Marco, Paolo Pozzi, Roberto Boffi, Samera H. Hamad,   Martin M. Shafer, James J. Schauer, Dane Westerdahle and Constantinos Sioutas
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2014, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/ C4EM00415A, Paper

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Concerns over chemical treatment of reclaimed fracking fluid

The study analysed water samples from shale gas wells in Marcellus (Pennsylvania), Eagle Ford (Texas), and Barnett (New Mexico) © Michael J Mullen Scranton Times-Tribune/AP/Press Association Images

Estimates suggest that in the next 50 years, over one trillion gallons of water will be used in shale gas extraction but research from scientists in the US suggests that environmentally detrimental compounds are being created when this fluid is recycled.

Shale gas is found in rock formations kilometres underground. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, facilitates the release of this energy dense fuel in a cost-effective and timely manner. Water, sand and a combination of other additives are pumped into the ground at high pressure, breaking the shale formations apart, allowing the gas to migrate to the surface where it can be collected.

To read the full article, please visit Chemistry World.

Organic compounds in produced waters from shale gas wells
Samuel J. Maguire-Boyle and Andrew R. Barron
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2014, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/C4EM00376D, Paper

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Painting the mountains blue

Vera Thoss tells Elinor Richards about her bluebell business and research, using her car in her experiments and analysing whale vomit

Vera Thoss lying in bluebell fieldVera Thoss is an environmental chemistry lecturer at Bangor University, UK. Her research is based on ecological chemistry, which addresses processes mediated through specific compounds within ecosystems and environmental chemistry, which is concerned with the impact of human activities on the environment.

What inspired you to become a scientist?

It all started when I was 13 and I had my first chemistry lesson. I instantly took to the subject and from then my mind was made up. I was also curious and wanted to ‘understand the world’.

What attracted you to environmental science?

As a chemist, the choice was between synthetic and analytical chemistry. I chose analytical chemistry because it allows you to follow the environmental fate of natural or man-made compounds. Being allowed to spend time in the woods was a big bonus!

What projects are you working on?

Currently, my group is working on oil pollution, composting and plant-derived products. It seems a bit of a stretch but it is all part of carbon cycling: plants build precious molecules, most of the time these remain intact but may transfer into air, water or soil. Crude oil is the remnants of sunken forests. So in the end, all the chemistry comes from plants photosynthesising and creating complex fragrances, tastes and colours. It is fascinating.

What will be the next big breakthrough in your field?

To chemically separate plant material into multiple useable compounds, with environmentally benign techniques, using as little energy as possible and ideally producing no waste at all.

Which achievements are you most proud of?

My beautiful daughter.  Last year I organised the first ‘Plants as Providers of Fine Chemicals’ conference, which was very successful.  I also managed to measure picogram amounts of monoterpenes in three-week-old Scots pine seedlings before they were eaten by slugs.

You own a farm from which you run a business selling bluebells called Vera Bluebell. How did this come about?

I was always concerned about the availability of clean drinking water, and moving to a mountain farm near Snowdon in Wales was a strategic choice (it does rain a lot!). Realising that there was abundance of bluebells on the land was a chance discovery after a fire. I was aware of their unusual chemistry though and that was the starting point for Vera Bluebell. Bluebells are protected, which means a license is needed to work with them. There was a demand for wild bluebells as well. We have now been sustainably managing a wild bluebell population for over six years and it has been an interesting journey. I would love to see a bluebell derived extract being used in a commercial product.

What discoveries have you made during your research on bluebells?

Bluebell seeds have a high oil content and the oil has an unusual composition. Even though this is the first chemical assessment of Hyacinthoides non-scripta oil, the chemistry is not earth-shattering. The ecology aspects gave room for more discoveries, for example we found seed stores on the site, meaning that possibly voles or shrew have collected the seeds for storage. This has never been reported before.

Tell us about your bluebell conservation efforts and how your research can help.

We are hoping to show that bluebell seeds can be a source of fine chemicals. We obtain an oil of unusual composition from the seeds. The residue contains iminosugars, which may be of use in future medicines. I am hoping that the compounds isolated from bluebell seeds will be of commercial value, which in turn means that the conservation of bluebells pays for itself. We are hoping to paint the mountains and woodlands blue again.

You’re involved with projects called BEACON and PROBECO. What are these and what is your role in both projects?

BEACON is all about biorefining, obtaining different compounds from the same plant feedstock. There are different feedstocks investigated in BEACON ranging from perennial rye grass to ivy. My role is to analyse whole plant composition and organise the ‘ Plants as Providers of Fine Chemicals ‘  conference. The PROBECO project was about the influence of monoterpenes on ecosystem processes in Caledonian Scots pine forests. These are very rare ecosystems. Individual pine trees smell different and the forest served as a study site to investigate the role of specific monoterpenes. I was the scientist analysing the smell of thousands of pine trees and we came up with the chemodiversity hypothesis.

In 2007, you worked with Welsh company Used Tyre Distillation Research to produce novel products from used tyres, in particular oil for fuelling cars. What was your role in the research? I read that your car was used to test the fuel. What was the result?

Again my role was to analyse the products. The oil was a complex mixture and we did see some interesting compounds in it. The tyre oil was noticeably energy dense, giving faster acceleration to the car, which has survived the experiment well!

In 2008, you had an odd request to analyse what was thought to be whale vomit (ambergris) on a North Wales beach. Why is whale vomit so important and what did you find?

I’ve had a few requests for the analysis of beach finds. Ambergris is sought after in the perfume industry, but we have yet to get our hands on some. Most samples were waxes or plastic, which possibly fell overboard, just aged in the sea.

What other odd things have you been asked to analyse?

Another nice in-house example for analysis was to trace a smell in the corridor back to its origin: we sampled air in the corridor outside my office and the terrible smell was found to be due to demolition work going on next door. If it stinks don’t automatically blame the chemists!

What do you do in your spare time?

I love gardening, farming and generally just being outdoors. I am an amateur bee keeper and enjoy spending time with my family.

Read the original article at Chemistry World, or Vera’s recent paper in the journal RSC Advances:

Triacylglycerol composition of British bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) seed oil
Vera Thoss, P J Murphy, Ray John Marriott and Thomas Wilson
DOI: 10.1039/C2RA20090B

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EPA sets safe dioxin level

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its non-cancer science assessment for dioxins after nearly three decades of delays – to a mixture of responses from stakeholders. This report establishes for the first time a reference dose for dioxin exposure in the US, which could be used for regulation.

The EPA has set its threshold for safe dioxin exposure at a toxicity equivalence (TEQ) of 0.7 picograms per kilogram of body weight per day. That limit could result in tougher cleanup standards for hazardous waste sites, and more stringent limits on the amount of dioxins permitted in drinking water as well as the air.

Piglets

In several international incidents, dioxins have accumulated in pork products via animal feed

The non-cancer risk of exposure to dioxins – toxic chemicals that occur naturally in the environment but can also be released through forest fires, burning your trash in the backyard and certain industrial activities-was last reviewed in the US in the 1980s.

‘Today’s findings show that generally, over a person’s lifetime, current exposure to dioxins does not pose a significant health risk,’ the EPA said. Its actions to reduce emissions from all of the major industrial sources of dioxins, combined with the efforts of state governments and industry, have decreased known and measurable air emissions of dioxins in the US by 90% from 1987 levels, it added.

Although the agency concluded that most Americans have low-level exposure to dioxins, it noted that non-cancer effects of exposure to large amounts of dioxin include developmental and reproductive effects, immune system damage, hormone interference, skin disorders and possibly mild liver damage.

While many in the research and environmental communities praised EPA for finally releasing this crucial part of its dioxin reassessment, the chemical industry was less welcoming. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) called the agency’s final assessment ’scientifically flawed,’ and insisted that it ‘provides no defined public health benefit.’ The organisation further stated that it remains unclear why EPA would set a dioxin exposure level that is three times more stringent than other countries and the World Health Organisation (WHO) when the agency contends that current levels of dioxin do not pose a health concern.

‘We are concerned that their flawed reassessment has led to an overly restrictive standard, and it is going to cause problems down the road because it will be referenced for regulatory action,’ ACC spokesperson Scott Jensen tells Chemistry World.

Judging WHO?

But others such as Stephen Lester, science director for the non-profit Center for Health Environment & Justice in Washington, DC, point out that the WHO has set a dioxin exposure level of 1-4 picograms per kilogram of body weight per day, which is not remarkably different from the EPA level. In addition, Lester notes that the WHO developed its standard in 1998, and a great deal of science has moved forward since that time. He says the EPA dioxin reference dose is based on more recent data.

‘This is another example of how industry will never be happy with what the EPA has done, and this is why it has been delayed by 30 years,’ Lester states.

Arnold Schecter, a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Texas in Dallas, agrees that there was very strong opposition from the chemical industry to the EPA dioxin reassessment for decades. ‘That slowed things down repeatedly,’ he says.

But even supporters of the dioxin reassessment, like Lester and Schecter, express concern that the agency has failed to address the increased vulnerability to dioxin exposure of the unborn, as well as breast-feeding infants and adults with immune system problems.

They emphasise that sensitivity varies across the population, and fetuses and nursing children are at greater risk because their organs are still forming. Breastfed infants in particular receive a very large dose of dioxins in the fatty part of the mother’s milk, they argue.

Regarding the concerns of industry and others, the EPA says it is confident. ‘EPA’s dioxin assessment was extensively peer reviewed by outside experts,’ the agency tells Chemistry World. ‘This rigorously peer-reviewed non-cancer assessment updates the science and provides important new information to the public.’

The agency is expected to release the rest of its science assessment for dioxins later this year.

Read the original Chemistry World article here

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